02 June, 2007

Really awful books

At the library today, the head children's librarian came across the most horrific book. "Daddy is a Monster, Sometimes" - a typical "realistic" 1980s picture book, with dreadfully ugly pictures and a story which revolves around a father who apparantly has a split personality.

Believe it or not, it was in the Father's Day display. Thankfully, Kathleen (the children's librarian) took it out of the collection and put it into the discard pile.
We talked about the idiocy of such books for a while before the library actually opened, and she pretty much reiterated what I've always observed in 1970s-80s "literature" (can I even use the term literature for such bosh?). That kind of literature was produced by a school of thought which was all for "getting everything out into the open". In other words, you should put issues about abuse, disfunctional families, etc, right out into the open in the form of books, movies and other media. I'm going to try not to go into extreme detail, because I have a tendency to do that too much.

One of the most annoying results of this is an incredible predominence of abominable writing. Not that other genres haven't provided opportunities for terrible writers to take a formula and try to use that in place of quality writing. But this one seems particularly suited to that abuse. Many critics (usually of the aforementioned school of thought) praise books about such issues for their "sensitive exploration of difficult issues" or their courage "which enables the author to break through conventions to portray issues too often overlooked". (What a load of bosh!) Well, this type of attitude towards the subject matter is just begging for inferior writers to come along and copy it. (If the subject matter is the bold, original aspect, it should be jolly easy to copy, no?) I can think of one or two good writers who can mangage the realistic fiction for kids genre - Katherine Paterson, for instance. But the majority of the rest rely on the subject alone for "pathos" and "drama"; and the result is insentive bungling.

Another problem: they don't appeal to kids at all. Not only are such books incredibly ugly, but the realism itself is too close to home for kids who may live in disfunctional families, and for those who don't, they're too disturbing. If you really want a book abot disfunctional families, why not read fairy tales? They almost all feature abusive stepmothers, cruel siblings, etc. I can't think of a better example than Cinderella. And fairy tales are far enough removed from reality to not disturb kids.

Well, there are other problems too, but I said I wouldn't go on forever. This isn't supposed to be a dissertation, after all.

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